A milestone for journalists in Scotland
11 December 2013
I received news of the verdict in my case on 6 December 2013 via a phone call from one of the investigating officers. I was alone at home as he told me that David Limond had been found guilty on the second day of his trial at Ayr Sheriff Court. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and finally felt a 12-month weight begin to lift from my shoulders.
Limond was found guilty of committing a religiously aggravated breach of the peace on 20 September last year. On that September evening I was shocked to suddenly receive a stream of abusive messages on Twitter. I had finished editing a book only weeks before – Downfall: How Rangers FC self-destructed by Phil Mac Giolla Bháin – and it had caused a storm of controversy in Scotland.
Charting the story of Rangers’ financial collapse from the journalist who’d broken many of the major stories, Downfall was set to be serialised in the Scottish Sun upon release. But after a frightening and ferocious intimidation campaign by a group of Rangers fans who did not want the book on the shelves – which involved threats towards a Sun journalist – the serialisation was pulled the day before publication.
I strongly defended the book and its author, an Irish journalist who had endured a torrent of abuse, threats and smears throughout years of working on issues at Ibrox. Having written only one article on the debacle, which appeared on a popular Scots law blog, I then found that abuse turned on me.
Within a day of my article being published, a blog by an ex-journalist David Leggat was posted online providing details about my life and work and the small town in which I lived. Leggat was later the subject of a union rule 24 complaint by three NUJ members - Brian McNally of the Sunday Mirror, Phil Mac Giolla Bháin and Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News.
The complaint was upheld against Leggat and he resigned from the union before the Ethics Council could deliberate. However he was fined the maximum £1,000 and any future application to join will require National Executive Council (NEC) approval. Both Brian and Phil made reference in their complaints to Leggat’s persistent anti-Irish racism on his blog.
Two days after Leggat’s blog post I came to the attention of David Limond.
The prompt for the sudden stream of tweets was a broadcast on the unofficial Rangers chat online radio programme, hosted by Limond. Within that broadcast I was featured in a segment called “Taig of the day”.
The feature had its own jingle to the tune of the Blankety Blank theme, with lyrics that repeated the words “Taig of the day, scum of the day”. What followed was vile and left me absolutely stunned.
I was described as a “f***pig”, “provo c**t”, a “total and utter piece of f***ing s**t”, and plenty more that I won’t quote.
Limond described my appearance, gave listeners my Twitter contact details and instructed them to “hit her with everything you’ve got” and “get her told”, “she’s got to get bang bang bang”.
Taig is an extremely derogatory term used to describe Irish catholics and people of Irish catholic heritage in Northern Ireland and Scotland. I consulted with an equality expert about it and he told me that it’s the equivalent of America’s “N” word. For those of a racist and sectarian mindset, a Taig is the lowest of the low.
In Scotland 2012 I was considered a Taig because of my Irish catholic heritage, and that meant I was fair game. I have no shame in admitting that I was shaken by it and I found these comments personally hurtful.
Journalists have thick skin and I can handle a lot of flak coming my way, it goes with our territory, but there is a line and we should not be expected to accept racial abuse and intimidation as ‘just part of the job’. For too long in Scotland that has been par for the course. Those who have lived and worked outside of the Scotland bubble vouch for its unique problem in this area.
UK-wide broadcaster Channel 4 News had no problem getting stuck into the heart of the issue of intimidation targeted at journalists, members of the legal profession and well-known names in the football world that had occurred as a result of the high tensions surrounding the collapse of Rangers football club, but in Scottish media it is still scarcely mentioned.
When I gave evidence in court I explained that I agreed to take part in a Channel 4 broadcast on the issue last October because this is a problem that needs to be given attention, it needs to be addressed.
Alongside contacting the police the day after I heard Limond’s recorded podcast, I contacted the Scotland organiser for the NUJ, Paul Holleran.
The NUJ’s support has been unflinching throughout the last year. My experience sadly did not end with the podcast. Social media abuse has continued ever since that period, and it later became a problem at my place of work, The Drum magazine, where scrutiny even begun pouring upon my colleagues because of their association with me.
However, my employers have been strong in their support of my right to do my job, and the NUJ’s strength has been an essential thing to lean on at times. When almost every single day involves some form of hassle, abuse or attempted intimidation, knowledge that there are people firmly on your side makes all the difference.
Limond will appear for sentencing in January and he was told by Sheriff Scott Pattison that he is strongly considering a custodial sentence.
I know that other journalists in Scotland have been frightened away from covering matters at Rangers because of threats and the stress of continued abuse and harassment. This verdict is important because it sends the message that those who engage in these campaigns may one day find themselves in a courtroom.
The people who have bullied me have tried desperately to silence me and many others on an issue because it is uncomfortable for them. For the first time, that tactic has ended in a criminal conviction. That is a very important milestone for journalists in Scotland.